Space Ships and Astronauts: Future of Space Exploration

About the future of the space program and space flights both manned and unmanned.


Where are we traveling in the future? After the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz cooperative mission inaugurates another 1st, this time in international relations, the Viking-Mars lander will be launched, complete with a life detection system. Pioneer 11, the other Jupiter flyby, has already been whipped around by Jupiter's gravitational field in a slingshot boost toward a look at Saturn in 1980. Venus flybys and probes are scheduled for 1978 and there possibly will be a Venus radar-mapping balloon in Venus's atmosphere in 1981-1984. A Mariner Jupiter-Saturn flyby will leave in 1977. Other missions are planned for comet and asteroid study. Every astronomer is pushing for a 1986 study of Halley's Comet. Other talking-stage projects include automatic lunar rovers, a communications satellite for exploring the backside of the moon, landers on one of Jupiter's moons, and orbiters to study Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and Titan's atmosphere.

Spacelab, an international workshop whose crew can fly back to earth in the Space Shuttle, is under way for launch in 1980. The reusable Shuttle could supply a permanent orbiting station, and provide an earth-moon shuttle system having much lower fuel requirements than a moon rocket launched from earth. One of its tasks may be to place huge telescopes in orbit.

Talk has started about a manned lunar base operable sometime in the 1990s but no budget is now available. A solar electric-rocket propulsion system is also being developed.

Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger of Marshall Space Flight Center, when asked by a missionary why space research money wouldn't be better spent feeding hungry children, told the story of a poor people beset with plague 400 years ago. They were enraged when their local, open-handed benefactor spent some of his money supporting an experimenter who painstakingly ground lenses and built lens systems. The philanthropist refused to cut off his support and the microscope was born. Later bacteria were discovered, diseases conquered, the plague suppressed.

The benefits of space exploration are already showering in from near-space satellites and probes, from space medicine and materials, from electronics and computers developed to support the space effort. Exploration of this new frontier holds more potential for the good of mankind than all the advances made in the past. Once accepted, can we ever turn back from the challenge of that unknown?

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